The warmest man in town

Microfinance in Macedonia

Nothing much happens in Chaloshevo. It’s a small town, with several hundred people, five kilometres from the city of Veles, in central Macedonia.

Thirty to 40 houses and a couple of pig farms. That’s it. It used to be a holiday getaway for Veles’ residents but when the economy soured so did Chaloshevo’s prospects. The biggest news over the last four years was when a crazed wolf came down from the mountains, took a stroll around, scared everyone and was finally subdued by one brave man with a spade.

That all changed when Robert Kamcevski decided to become the warmest man in town.

Research indicates that one in every six homes in Macedonia is in urgent need of renovation or reconstruction.

Making it possible

Robert’s home is on top of a small hill where he lives with his wife and three children. A builder by profession, Robert had long thought about repairing his home. Electricity, plumbing, windows all needed to be upgraded. His growing family needed more space and a new kitchen. And, he really wanted to be warm in his own home.

Like Robert, many families in Macedonia cannot afford to buy bigger houses or make a large addition. Instead, over time, they renovate. But this isn’t easy. Banks have made borrowing close to impossible. The procedure is complicated and the conditions they impose along with high interest rates and short repayment periods have led to people giving up without even trying.

Robert was frustrated but wouldn’t give up. Then he found Moznosti.

Moznosti, which means “possibility,” is a social enterprise. It operates an independent financial institution that works closely with Habitat for Humanity—a partnership that has proved to be highly successful by combining home improvement loans and construction advice. It also led to the development of a Home improvement Fund (HIF) that has already helped transform living conditions of more than 1,200 low-income families—basically the tip of the iceberg—with more than 100,000 homes needing urgent renovation work.

Creating a home

Robert applied for and received a loan to buy everything for his renovation project. The actual work, which included putting in electricity and plumbing, replacing windows, installing insulation, and building an out-building, he did himself. Soon, Robert became the talk of the town as the restoration work began.

“I expanded the living room and constructed an open plan kitchen, based on what I saw in (design) magazines. The kitchen’s huge,” he beamed. “I also plan on renovating the bathroom and installing solar panels on the roof.”

Maya Maneva, loan officer, Moznosti, Microfinance, was surprised about the addition of solar panels. “I knew he was resourceful,” she said as she wrote down this new information in her project notebook, “but he really is something else. We couldn’t have chosen a better partner for advertising the project even if we wanted to.”

The living room-cum-dining room-cum-kitchen Robert created is big, warm and pleasant. His wife, Natasha, who had brewed coffee and made meat and mushroom pastries—a local specialty—was also happy. It has everything she wants. The room has a large dining table, sofa, TV set, stove, washing machine and a lot of chairs. While everyone sipped coffee and tried the delicacies there is an overwhelming feeling that Robert has created a home.

When asked about how he feels about the work he’s accomplished, Robert thought for a moment and said that apart from creating a space for his family, he feels best when friends sit in the big living room and compliment him on the work, the space and the warmth. “They want to know how I did it. They want to know more about Moznosti and Habitat for Humanity. And, they want to know how they can do it. They told me that now I was the talk of the town.”

The renovation work had added benefits. The insulation along with the new windows cut energy usage and reduced costs. Last year, for example, Robert used nine to ten cubic meters wood for heating, this year only four. “And the rooms stay warm, it feels like forever,” he said with a smile on his face. “I feelI have really done something for my family and I’m proud to be the warmest man in town.”